I refer to the letters headlined, 'Misguided policy' (South China Morning Post, June 7), 'Efficient' (Sunday Morning Post, June 18) and 'Arbitrary ban offers no solutions' (Post, June 23), on the re-organisation of stopping activities of residents' service buses in Central and Wan Chai.
Hong Kong is a small but highly mobile city that depends on an efficient transport system to sustain its continuous growth. However, mainly owing to the limited road space available, traffic congestion, especially in the central business areas such as Central and Wan Chai, is a serious problem.
To address this, since late 1998, a series of measures have been launched to rationalise the services and stopping activities of franchised buses in Central, Wan Chai and North Point. For example, we have taken the following action in Central: Diverting 23 bus routes from the most congested corridors.
Cancelling five low-patronage bus routes.
Reducing the frequency of 23 island routes and 12 cross-harbour routes.
Truncating six routes before they reach Central.
Reducing the number of places where buses can stop in Central by over 1,000.
These measures have reduced the number of bus trips into Central by over 1,000 and generally improved the traffic conditions so that, for example, bus congestion outside Pacific Place has been greatly improved. Action on franchised bus services alone is, however, not sufficient. We noted that residents' service buses also contributed to congestion in these areas.
With development in the New Territories, the demand for such buses has grown rapidly in recent years. There are now 75 routes operating in Central and Wan Chai, 55 of which originate from the New Territories.
According to our surveys, the rapid increase of these services, especially during the evening peak period, had contributed to the congestion problem.
Many of them had not followed the approved timetable, routings and stopping arrangements and were found to be operating excessive, unauthorised stopping haphazardly. The existence of illegal residents' service buses further aggravated the problem.
To improve traffic flow in the Central business district and to better regulate the residents' service activities, we have to restrict their stopping activities and introduce measures to help police enforce restrictions.
Residents' service operators are now required to display signboards on their buses which carry the route numbers and the destinations, and to display details of the routings and set down/pick-up points. Restricted zones for buses have also been designated at popular locations in Central and Wan Chai in the evening peak hours to facilitate enforcement against illegal residents' service bus activities.
Since the introduction of these measures, the obstruction problems caused by these buses have been alleviated and traffic conditions in Central and Wan Chai have improved.
We have tried to keep inconvenience to the users of these services to a minimum. We have also strengthened the cross-harbour bus services between Central and New Territories west in order to meet passenger demand. We are also ready to examine the case for new residents' service buses as feeder routes to the rail network, which provides off-road access to Central, Wan Chai and Causeway Bay.
Residents' service buses play a supplementary role in the public transport system. Their primary function is to supplement franchised bus services during peak hours, thereby reducing the pressure to increase franchised buses solely for the peak period.
To avoid the environmental problems associated with road traffic, and to help reduce the pressure on limited road space, it is our policy to make railways the backbone of the future transport network in Hong Kong. The residents' service buses may continue to feed passengers to the nearest railway station.
LOUIS HUNG for Commissioner for Transport